How to Hire the People Who Will Scale Up Your Tech Start-up

Sarah Benson
Head of Search

Gibson Watts is a leadership recruitment and executive search company that is shaping a sustainable future for businesses and the planet. To speak to someone please use our contact form or call us on:

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The odds of a start-up making it past its first year are slim, but there is one asset that can give it a fighting chance…


Despite the overriding belief that intellectual property, patents, and funding trump all, many experts are now saying that its employees are the true driving force behind a start-up’s success. A company is only as good as its people, after all.

Working with start-ups over the last few years has given me the great privilege of taking what I learned as an in-house Talent Manager and flipping it to support C-Suite leaders at the helm of some of the world’s most innovative start-ups. This experience has provided me with invaluable insights into what combination of skills, values, motivations, and experiences are needed to unlock a start-up’s full potential.

It is often deeply personal, highly technical, and underpinned by lots of “What ifs”. There are ideal scenarios, there are worst-case scenarios and there are many compromises to be considered.

How do we find the “talent” equivalent of the Colonel’s secret blend of spices for our clients? How do we find talent that will deliver, be motivated, engaged, and embody the founder’s dream as if it were their own? 

What I’ve learnt so far when identifying talent for our clients

  1. Not everyone has what it takes to adapt to a start-up setting and that’s okay
  2. Not everyone wants to take the risk of joining a start-up – that’s okay too
  3. Lots of people find the world of start-up/technology very exciting – it does not mean they all have what it takes to make it work for them
  4. You don’t need to have ‘proven’ yourself in a start-up or rapidly growing business, but you need to be able to demonstrate a fundamental ability to adapt to change and work without a formal structure. This is echoed in a recent article by CEO Review, which lists adaptability as one of the top 5 in-demand skills at a tech startup
  5. Having a strong sense of the client’s culture and matching that with talent/personal drivers is critical
  6. What I often look for when I’m exploring flexibility/adaptability:
    • Not knowing the answers and being prepared to get it wrong
    • Knowing the problem statement and being brave enough to work out some of the solutions
    • Being creative – especially with resources available to you
    • Being a natural problem solver, a fan of puzzles!
    • Being curious and being prepared to change your mind with new information
    • Knowing that how you did it yesterday/last week/last month may not always be the way to do it today

Sometimes the challenge we are faced with in supporting our clients is recognising that their brief will change – I’ve had to become pretty flexible in my own thinking these last few years. And oftentimes myself and my colleagues are left to lean into our own experiences and knowledge to fill in the blanks. Using past experiences, benefiting from deep connections with talented people and understanding the market really helps. Being able to offer options, the people that fit Plan A, those that fit Plan B, and those that have a range of skills that fall somewhere in the middle.

Final thoughts

Above all else though – what has had the biggest impact on our success with our clients is our ability to get to know founders and commercial leaders personally. It’s only when we can attempt to walk a mile in their shoes that we begin to understand what truly drives them. We can then pull all this insight, feeling, and values-driven stuff into the search we are undertaking. We know that skills can be learned but values and culture are deeply individualistic and personal – matching talent with founders based on these factors has the greatest impact.

In the end, it all comes down to the talented individuals who drive start-ups to success with their unwavering dedication and shared values. By assembling a winning team on behalf of our clients they can pave the way to success and defy the odds.

How Gibson Watts can help

It goes without saying that building a strong and skilled team is crucial for success in the fast-paced world of start-ups. However, many lack the resources to build an in-house HR team. This is where Gibson Watts steps in.

Acting as an extension of your team, we find the talent with the right skills, mindset, and culture to fuel your company’s growth and scalability.

With our deep understanding of the market for talent (both in terms of the skills that are in demand and the availability of qualified candidates), we can predict the skills that companies will need in the future so they stay ahead of the curve.

Are you a start-up looking for talented individuals who can help you achieve your goals? We have a proven track record of helping start-ups build the world-class teams they need to scale up and succeed.

Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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